Bergman’s spiritual quest is at the center of the films he made in the middle of his career. “The Seventh Seal” opens that period, in which he asked, again and again, why God seemed absent from the world. In “Through a Glass Darkly” (1962), the mentally ill heroine has a vision of God as a spider. In the austere “Winter Light” (1962), Bjornstrand and von Sydow appear again, in the story of a country priest whose faith is threatened by the imminence of nuclear catastrophe. In “Persona” (1966), televised images of war cause an actress to simply stop speaking. In the masterpiece “Cries and Whispers” (1972), a woman dying of cancer finds a faith that her sisters cannot understand or share.
The last three major films in Bergman’s career look inside for the answers to his haunting questions. They are all autobiographical, including “Fanny and Alexander’ (1984), the last film he directed, and two more he wrote the screenplays for, “The Best Intentions” (1992) and the remarkable “Sunday’s Children” (1994). That last film, based on a memory of a summer vacation in the country with a young man and his father, a dying minister, was directed by Bergman’s own son, Daniel–perhaps as a way of allowing Daniel to deal with the same kinds of questions Ingmar has had.
Bergman’s work has an arc. The dissatisfied young man considers social and political issues. In middle age, he asks enormous questions about God and existence. In old age, he turns to his memories for what answers there are. And in many of these films, there is the same kind of scene of reconciliation. In “The Seventh Seal,” facing the end of his own life and the general destruction of the plague, the knight spends some time with Joseph and Mary and their child, and says, “I will remember this hour of peace. The dusk, the bowl of wild strawberries, the bowl of milk, Joseph with his lute.” Saving this family from Death becomes his last gesture of affirmation. In “Cries and Whispers,” a journal left by the dead sister recalls a day when she was feeling a little better, and the sisters and a maid walked in the sunlight and sat in a swing on the lawn: “I feel a great gratitude to my life,” she wrote, “which gives me so much.”
And “Scenes From a Marriage” (1973) tells the story of a couple whose marriage disintegrates, but whose love and hope do not quite disappear; after many years apart, they visit a country house where they were once happy. The woman awakens with a nightmare, the man holds and comforts her, and in the middle of the night in a dark house, surrounded by hurt and fear, this comforting between two people is held up as man’s best weapon against despair.
There are, as is known, insects that die in the moment of fertilization. So it is with all joy: life’s highest, most splendid moment of enjoyment is accompanied by death.
“Such hypocrisy should not be unexected from Gill, the consummate fraudster who made countless men believe his sham religiousity. In a great satanic prank, he concealed the weird, disgusting wrongness of his religious art just enough to convince patrons to place it within their chaste sanctuaries.
He duped Rev. Vincent McNabb, the spiritual advisor to the Ditchling Guild, and one of its benefactors. He duped his fellow craftsman Hilary Pepler, although after Gill moved to Wales their friendship ended and never resumed, even after their children married. Gill duped G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who published his articles in their distribuist journals. He duped Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker. Day admiringly quoted Gill in her essay On Pilgrimage. This is what he wrote, what she quoted:
‘The point is that the whole world has got it firmly fixed in its head that the object of working is to obtain as large an amount of material goods as possible, and that with the increased application of science and the increased use of machinery that amount will be very large indeed, while at the same time the amount of necessary labor will become less and less, until machines being minded by machines, it will be almost none at all. And the point is that this frame of mind is radically un-Christian and anti-Christian. And the point of that is that it is therefore contrary to Nature and contrary to God – as anti-God as any atheist could wish.’
True words, but wholly insincere. For sexual predation is the ultimate materialism; nothing is more materialistic and mechnanical than the reduction of a person to a mere instrument for orgasm, a warm piece of flesh with a few wet orifices. Abusive and unnatural sex implies the mere carnality of the body. In no other sin save murder is the person more thoroughly thinged. To Gill, the person ceased to exist entirely: man, woman, child, blood relation and lower beast were all the same to him.
A sexual predator, to paraphrase one, has got it firmly fixed in its head that the object is to obtain as large an amount of sex as possible, and that with the increased application of science and the increased use of machinery that amount will be very large indeed, while at the same time the amount of necessary love will become less and less, until machines being minded by machines, it will be almost none at all. A worldview that does not count chastity among its foundational virtues is necessarily materialistic; a degradation of personhood that begins in the bedroom will find its way into the battlefield and the torture chamber, the factory and the mini-mall.”
That’s just a Godsbodyish snippet. It’s really an excellent essay. Do go read.
“Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.”
Last Friday’s nuptials inspired a new* Easter Island Humor. (Yes, I am aware that “inspired” may be a bit strong here…)
*Old Easter Island Humor may be found here.
The Manhattan Lawyer went and got married last Friday. The Wife and I were fortunate enough to be in attendance. This was the song for their first dance.